Friday, July 8, 2011

Oral arguments heard in "Brown County Five" case

Both sides in the so-called “Brown County Five” incident presented their oral arguments Wednesday before the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals in Middletown.

Jessica A. Little, the prosecutor for Brown County, said both her and the defense were given 25 minutes to present their arguments. Normally the court allows just 15 minutes for such arguments, Little said Thursday.

“It’s a novel case and I wouldn’t want the job of deciding this case,” Little said.

As issue is a legal point of law called the Garrity Rule. This legal fiat protects at least some civil servants from making potentially self-incriminating statements to an investigating agency such as the Ohio Inspector General.

While attorneys for the five felony-indicted Ohio Division of Wildlife officials have maintained that the Garrity Rule applies to their clients, Little just as steadfastly believes that they do not.

Among the five indicated officials include a now-retired agency chief, a now-retired assistant chief, a district supervisor, the agency’s law enforcement administrator, and its human resources manager. Each person is charged with two fifth degree felony counts, the filing going back about 15 months.

The indictment stems from an incident in which the state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County - Allan Wright - allowed a South Carolina wildlife officer to use his Ohio address in order to obtain an Ohio hunting license on Nov. 5, 2006.

Wright is soon to be reassigned to an at-large agent posting, a Wildlife Division officials said Thursday.

It is alleged that the five high-ranking Wildlife Division officials should have handled the Wright incident as a criminal matter and not as an administrative matter that resulted in a verbal reprimand for Wright.

However, the officials’ attorneys were successful with the first court round, a ruling that was made in their favor last September by Brown County Common Please Court Judge Scott T. Gusweiler.

Little then presented her position in briefs before the court. Subsequently, the defense moved for the court to hear arguments orally, which the justices granted.

“We’re now waiting for a ruling from the court, which could take several months,” Little said.

Little said it was difficult for her to gauge any reaction from the justices though
she said it appeared that she was tossed “a couple of softball questions.”

“But it’s just too difficult to say what is going to happen,” Little said. “You never know what (the justices) are going to do but I am cautiously optimistic.”

Still, should the justice rule in favor of the defendants then almost without question Little intends to appeal to the state Supreme Court, she said.

Little said also that she would expect the defense to do the same.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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